UN warns of Cote d’Ivoire abuses

International body says it has received hundreds of reports of abductions, as post-election standoff continues.

Security forces loyal to Gbabgo have been accused of turning their weapons on protesters [Reuters]

The United Nations has said it is receiving growing reports of human rights abuses, including hundreds of reports of abductions in Cote d’Ivoire, which remains locked in a political crisis following last month’s disputed election.

On Sunday the UN human rights chief said the organisation had received hundreds of reports of night-time abductions carried out by armed assailants in military uniform.

“The deteriorating security conditions in the country and the interference with freedom of movement of UN personnel have made it difficult to investigate the large number of human rights violations reported,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

Pillay said that the armed groups behind the abductions had been “accompanied by elements of the Defence and Security Forces or militia groups”.

“Abducted persons are reportedly taken by force to illegal places of detention where they are held incommunicado and without charge. Some have been found dead in questionable circumstances,” she said.

Ama Boateng, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Abidjan, said she had heard reports that people in various areas across the country were “setting up their own kind of neighbourhood watch”.

“If, for example, they hear a knock on the door at night that they’re not expecting, they may blow whistles or bang pots and pans to alert the entire neighbourhood,” she said.

Deteriorating situation

Young-Jin Choi, the UN’s Special Envoy to Cote d’Ivoire, speaking to Al Jazeera from Abidjan, confirmed that serious violations of human rights have occurred.

“Our preliminary investigations confirm that there are more then 50 dead, 200 injured and 270 detained. We are also investigating the cases which we think are very serious,” he said.

“We, against road blocks and harassments by Gbagbo’s forces, keep sending out patrols day and night to monitor and dissuade violations of human rights and violence.”

The US state department on Sunday ordered most of its personnel to leave Cote d’Ivoire because of what officials are calling a deteriorating political and security situation and growing anti-Western sentiment.

Meanwhile, the EU imposed a travel ban on 19 Ivory Coast officials, including Gbagbo, Maja Kocijancic, European Commission spokeswoman said.

The developments come a day after the UN refused to bow to demands by Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president, to pull its troops out of the country.

Disputed elections

Gbagbo’s spokeswoman, appearing on national television on Saturday, said that the UN’s 9,000 peacekeepers and another 900 French troops supporting them were to leave the country immediately.

Gbagbo accuses the UN mission of backing and arming supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who the UN has said won the election over Gbagbo in a November 28 poll.

Both men claimed victory in the election, but the UN, along with the United States, the African Union (AU) and Cote d’Ivoire’s former colonial power France say Ouattara was the rightful winner.

The post-election crisis turned violent last Thursday when security forces loyal to Gbagbo used live rounds to put down street protests by Ouattara supporters.

Gbagbo allies said some protesters were armed and put the toll from the clashes at 20 dead, including 10 members of the security forces.

The UN says that more than 50 people had been killed in recent days and more than 200 wounded.

‘National tragedy’

Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, has warned that Gbagbo could face prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and renewed a call for him to stand down immediately.

France, like the UN, has refused to pull its forces out of Cote d’Ivoire.

But experts say there are few strong options for forcing Gbagbo from office, and it is unlikely the AU or others would back a military intervention that Raila Odinga, the Kenyan prime minister, has called for.

“The trouble is both sides are clearly preparing now for conflict, and a cornered Gbagbo shows little sense of the national tragedy unfolding through his brinkmanship,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, an independent research centre in London, said.

Vines said it was more likely that the African Union would seek a “soft landing” for Gbagbo, though it remained unclear whether he would consider such an exile offer.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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